Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 4:1-14) transports me to Detroit, aka Motor City, aka Motown, where, in 1961, on the steps of Hitsville, U.S.A. studios, a group of five young men are on the spot to come up with a name for their r & b group, after discovering that the name they had been using, The Elgins, had already been taken. The men had been in several other groups – The Siberians, the El Domingos, the Distants, the Primes. Singer Otis Williams, along with Miracle Records employee Billy Mitchell, decided on the new name, one that would play into the seductive nature of the music. The Temptations were born. The group spent the next several years in the musical wilderness, failing to break into the top 100, and even came to be known as The Hitless Temptations. First tenor singer Al Bryant finally got frustrated and quit, saying that he enjoyed his day job as a milkman more than he did performing with the group. David Ruffin replaced Bryant, and in 1964 the hits suddenly started coming, beginning with The Way You Do the Things You Do, followed up by their signature song, My Girl. The group’s name would come to play more of a role than they might have originally thought, as one by one various members succumbed to temptations common to young people who suddenly find themselves wandering in the wilderness of fame and fortune. Jealousy, alcohol and drug abuse, violence, greed, sexual exploitation, all played a part in the rapid turnover of group members. David Ruffin was fired for his difficulty in resisting the temptation to arrogance and hubris within the group – he followed Diana Ross’ lead and insisted the name be changed to David Ruffin and the Temptations. Ruffin had a hard time accepting his fate; he would often show up at venues and jump onto the stage mid-concert, taking the mike from his replacement and delighting the crowd with his song and dance.
Were Jesus to have been asked to come up with a name for his act at the onset of his ministry, he might have beaten Otis Williams to the draw and come up with The Temptations himself. It has always interested me to read this wilderness temptation narrative in light of what comes later in Luke’s gospel, the model prayer, where Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Here, as Jesus begins his public ministry, the Spirit does just that, leading/driving/carrying him into the wilderness to face the temptations and trials of the evil one. It’s also interesting that the temptations don’t appear to be for evil things – the enticement is all about providing food for the hungry, trusting in guardian angels, assuming his position as King of kings and Lord of lords. No alcohol or drugs, no sexual exploitation, no greed or violence involved. The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to face a more subtle and insidious temptation: to follow the lead of the demonic, to act on the tempter’s terms instead of his own sense of calling. In a very real way, the experience of temptation was necessary for Jesus to fully appreciate and understand what it meant to be human. He had to experience freedom, and you can’t have freedom without choice, and you can’t have real choice without the seductive draw of wrong choices competing with right choices, false paths competing with true paths.
When you think about it, we would give up a lot of what it means to be human if it were not for the temptations we face on a daily basis. Without temptations, we wouldn’t have the cardinal virtues of courage, prudence, temperance, justice. What cause would there be for courage if there wasn’t the equal opportunity for cowardice? What cause would there be for prudence if there wasn’t opportunity for foolishness? What cause for temperance if there wasn’t opportunity for the excesses and addictions of greed ? What cause for justice if not opportunity for corruption and discrimination? The authentic and virtuous life would cease to have meaning if we weren’t led into the wilderness each day to face the demonic draw toward the inauthentic life. We would cease to be free. We would cease to be human. It may be just my imagination running away with me, but all this makes Jesus’ petition for God to lead us not into temptation even more enigmatic. Ah Jesus, the way you do the things you do. . .
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.